The Canterbury Tales

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Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a vintner, in about 1342. He is known to have been a page to the Countess of Ulster in 1357, and Edward III valued him highly enough to pay a part of his ransom in 1360, after he had been captured fighting in France.

It was probably in France that Chaucer’s interest in poetry was first aroused. Certainly he soon began to translate the long allegorical poem of courtly love, the Roman de la Rose. His literary experience was further increased by visits to the Italy of Boccaccio on the King’s business, and he was well-read in several languages and on many topics, such as astronomy, medicine, physics and alchemy.

Chaucer rose in royal employment, and became a knight of the shire for Kent (1385–6) and a Justice of the Peace. A lapse of favour during the temporary absence of his steady patron, John of Gaunt (to whom he was connected by his marriage), gave him time to begin organizing his unfinished Canterbury Tales. Later his fortunes revived, and at his death in 1400 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The order of his works is uncertain, but they include The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde and a translation of Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae.

Professor Nevill Coghill held many appointments at Oxford University, where he was Merton Professor of English Literature from 1957 to 1966, and later became Emeritus Fellow of Exeter and Merton Colleges. He was born in 1899 and educated at Haileybury and Exeter College, Oxford, and served in the Great War after 1917. He wrote several books on English Literature, and had a keen interest in drama, particularly Shakespearean. For many years he was a strong supporter of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and produced plays in London and Oxford. The book of the musical play, Canterbury Tales, which ran at the Phoenix Theatre, London, from 1968 to 1973 was co-written by Nevill Coghill in collaboration with Martin Starkie who first conceived the idea and presented the original production. His translation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde into modern English is also published in the Penguin Classics. Professor Coghill, who died in November 1980, will perhaps be best remembered for this translation which has become an enduring bestseller.

    • Age Level = 12 and up
    • Book Author = Geoffrey Chaucer
    • Book Material = Paperback
    • Book Publisher = Penguin Books
    • Book Series = Penguin Classics
    • Copyright = c1951
    • Grade Level = 7th and up

Item Number: 36-286

Item ID: 30006

Category: Middle Ages